Directors Note by Bev Brooks

Shelagh Stephenson used Joseph Wright's 1767 painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump as inspiration for her play. She questions the place of ethics in scientific experimentation. Should it "be left to phi- losophers and priests"? Would "moral qualms be the death of science"? In the 1700's, body snatching (or, as with the infamous Burke and Hare, outright murder) to provide bodies for medical research often meant that researchers turned a blind eye to the origin of bodies they studied. Today we read of advances in biotechnology: the Human Genome Project, Cloning, Fetal Diagnostics, and the use of pre-embryonic cells in the search for cures for Parkinson's Disease or Alzheimer's. Is "discovery and the pursuit of truth" ethically neutral? Or is the position of Fenwick correct? "Good science requires us to use every aspect of ourselves. and sometimes the heart comes into it." Stephenson entwines the themes of love vs. passion and the evolving role of women, into a cocktail of issues spanning two hundred years. Above all, she seeks to remind us of the "dead hand of caution": the end has always been to cure disease; just how bad can the means be.?

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